When the hammer dropped for the last time at Bonhams’ fourth annual Las Vegas motorcycle auction in January,
the final winning bid of the night pushed the event’s total sales to $3.3 million—a 30 percent increase from the previous year’s auction. While many desirable bikes crossed the block, the event’s headliner was a 1978 Ducati 900 NCR, which sold for $175,500, 60 percent more than its high estimate. “It’s a fabulous piece of motorcycle history,” says Nick Smith, a Bonhams motorcars and motorcycles specialist. “It was pure as the driven snow, unraced; the wheel was never turned. It is as complete as it was back in the day, which is rare to find for any motorcycle.”
For many motorcycle enthusiasts in the room, the untouched Ducati NCR conjured up memories of Mike Hailwood’s triumphant return to motorcycle racing in 1978. Hailwood had retired from the sport in 1967 with nine motorcycle Grand Prix world titles to his name. But in 1978 he returned to bike racing on a Ducati 900 NCR V-twin to win the Isle of Man TT race. At 38 years old, Hailwood was considered a long shot, but the racing legend proved the critics wrong: He won the six-lap race with an average speed of more than 108 mph, and he set a new lap record speed of 110.62 mph.
Hailwood’s victory was among a select few that elevated Ducati to superbike status. The NCR shop in Bologna produced only 25 racing bikes like Hailwood’s, and, according to Smith, the winning bidder for the example that recently sold in Las Vegas recognized that rarity. “He was a very particular client,” Smith says. “He knew precisely what he was looking at and he was determined to buy it.”